Revenue income from Cumilla's Bibir Bazar Land Port is being severely hurt by India-Bangladesh trade inequality.
Although all legal goods are allowed to enter India from Bangladesh through this port, the Indian government is importing only two to three products through the port.
On the other hand, 42 goods from India are allowed to enter Bangladesh, but only three to five consignments enter Bangladesh per month.
Clearing and forwarding (C&F) agents in Bangladesh said imports and exports are not picking up as there are more tariff products than duty-free products in India and the Indian central government is not cooperating despite having demand for more products in the two countries.
There is a quarantine centre in Cumilla but there is no permanent quarantine centre in India. India levies VAT arbitrarily when other raw materials are imported besides the three regular products from Bangladesh. Sometimes they even levy a 5% VAT on duty-free goods, according to the C&F Agents Association.
As a result, many traders in Cumilla are not interested in exporting goods through this port.
The Indian government is also imposing VAT on products that have been allowed by the South Asian Free Trade Area to enter India without VAT. There is also a problem in determining the quality of the product by showing cost break-up. As a result,
Bangladeshi traders have turned their backs on the port despite the huge demand for fish, jute yarn, poultry feed, and glass in Tripura.
Jamal Ahmed, president of the C&F Agents Association Cumilla, said, "We have met the Tripura port authorities more than once on the issues of import-export, but they have not found a solution. The Indian central government is not interested in importing goods that are in demand in Tripura only. Mainly due to the non-cooperation of the central government, we are not able to export goods properly."
Cement, sand and coal enter Tripura through Bibir Bazar. Before the onset of Covid-19's fallout, 1,200 tonnes of goods entered Tripura daily through this port. This decreased to an average of 500 tonnes from April onward.
Meanwhile, India is exporting 42 products including: onion, garlic, cumin, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cattle, wood apple, tamarind, agarbatti, and seasonal fruits. Before Covid-19, seven to eight consignments – 40 to 50 tonnes of goods per consignment – used to enter Cumilla through the Bibir Bazar port due to high demand. The duty was about Tk50 lakh, which is Tk30 lakh at present.
Although 5,000 people from the two countries come and go every month for medical, travel and other purposes, entry to India and Bangladesh through this port has been banned since April.
Cumilla Medical College former principal and Bangladesh Environmental Movement (Bapa) Cumilla president Mosleh Uddin Ahmed said, "Trade equality must be brought to the joint meeting of the two countries to end the stagnation. In this case, there is no alternative to the sincerity of the Bangladeshi government."
Masud Parvez Khan Imran, president of the Cumilla Chamber of Commerce and director of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries, said, "I was approached by the C&F and Beximco Pharma authorities, recently, to speed up port development and trade. I hope there will be a solution."
He added, "The traders have not contacted us so far due to the intervention of the syndicate. Although there is huge potential for trade at the port, due to the fictitious decision of the traders, stagnation is prevailing at the port. If everyone works together to solve the problem, the port will be functional again. The government will also be able to collect a lot of revenue and the economy will prosper too."
Ahmed Salauddin, a revenue officer at the Bibir Bazar Land Customs Station in Cumilla, said, "More traders need to be involved here to speed up trade at the port and we are working towards that goal. There is indeed some stagnation at the port now, but it will be solved soon."
On 23 April 2009, activities officially began at Bibir Bazar Land Port which is spread over 2.63 acres of land. Infrastructure has been set up at only 10% of the port. The activities of this port are executed with only five officers. If manpower can be increased, infrastructure problems are eliminated and the involvement of traders is increased, the doors of immense potential for trade will open at the port.